I hate to keep picking on KING5, Seattle’s leading tv news provider, but they provide so many excellent examples of what is really bad about today’s reporting. Here’s one related to a refinery non-event last night in our area.
First of all, the flames which they so dramatically showed on tv under “Breaking News” and then on their website was nothing more than large flaring related to restarting a unit. The angle which they presented made it look like the darn refinery was burning up.
Worse, in the early part of the story they say: “It was not immediately clear what leaked or if there was a connection to the flames.”
Just two paragraphs later they quote company spokespersons as the leak being naptha and that the leak of naptha had no relation to the flaring event.
So, what is true? Obviously, the later paragraphs. They just added stuff to the bottom of the story as it came in and then never bothered to update what they had said earlier. This is the instant news world, combined with the focus on presenting dramatic attention getting video regardless of whether or not there is legitimate news behind it. Then trying to create some news to support the nice entertaining video they got. Ultimately, the only story was in the headlines–that one or two people they talked to from the town were a little curious about the flaring. That is breaking news? As Stossel would say, give me a break!
I’m a faithful watcher of KING5 tv news in Seattle. They have pleasant tv personalities, some quirky reporters, and do a generally good job of the formulaic process we know of as local tv news. But they frequently feature an “Investigative Reports” segment that, quite frankly, makes me cringe in as much pain as George Costanza of Seinfeld used to create. It is embarrassing. Susanna Frame is the reporter and I don’t know if it is her, her producer or editor, or the general manager with his eye on the ratings meter that makes her do these things. But every one of her “investigative” reports features an “ambush journalism” sequence of her and her camera crew chasing down some poor soul who is trying to escape from the ambush while she yells at them, “Why are you lying to people.” (See video clips)
Come on, please! This was new and intriguing when Mike Wallace did it about a hundred years ago on 60 Minutes. But is more than passe, it is a cliche and a sad and uncomfortable one at that. Especially when the “gotcha” clip is repeated endlessly on the teasers leading up to the news show.
If this doesn’t show that tv news has devolved to formulaic and trite entertainment, I don’t know what does. KING5 is a great organization, with a storied history here in the Northwest. I hate to see them embarrass themselves in this way. Bullitt sisters, where are you when we need you?
I heard on tv last night that Zidane finally apologized. Typical, I thought. Like most companies caught in a crisis with their reputation at stake, they finally think about long enough, consult with all the attorneys in the Outlook, get lots of conflicting advice, and then do the right thing. Too little. Too late.
The problem with Zidane’s presumed apology is that I can’t find it. The Seattle news station who carried the story didn’t show Zidane apologizing, they showed video clips about how the French treat tourists (you guessed it, a whole series of vicious headbutts with the words “merci.”
And now I did a quick search of news sites and I can’t find the apology. What I do find are more and more videos that not only replay the vicious headbutt but take it to outrageous new extremes. Here’s one from a UK website that shows the headbutt as seen by the Germans, French, Italians, Americans, etc. Pretty good.
But for crisis communicators there’s a really big lesson here. Apologize early, apologize often, and get it out there fast. If you don’t you will get lost on the far more entertaining comment that is web-driven and far more compelling than your most tearful mea culpa.
This guy named Finkelstein in Washington DC calls Comcast to get his cable fixed. The cable guy comes over and gets put on hold by his own service department for an hour, so he takes a nap. Finkelstein thinks this is funny so he videotapes the cable guy asleep and puts some music to it.
No big deal. Just like ten thousand other service problems going on right now. Amusing even. But then Finkelstein does what young interneters do these days. He shared his video. With a quarter of a million others. He posted it up on www.youtube.com and 227,000 others got the opportunity to share in his little joke.
It didn’t end there. The news media picked it up. I watched the video on KING5 last night on the 11 pm news. Not sure how many others picked it up or if the likes of CNN or other cable networks covered it as well. I did check and it was on Newsvine (www.newsvine.com).
The point here is not Comcast’s customer service problems (I’m a customer and they have problems). But it is the fact that any of your employees doing dumb things can easily be videotaped or simply show up in a blog, on a news site, or a vodcast. Talk about a glass house. Talk about transparency. When one partied-out cable guy decides to take a nap, suddenly it can become a major, major black eye for his employer and make national news.
The value of having a house with lots of windows is that you tend to want to clean up. Even those untidy closets and corners. So that is the first thing to think about. What needs to be cleaned up? What would be embarrassing and undo all the good work you do and effort spent on communicating and building reputation? But, dustballs will happen. Nothing can be perfectly clean and sooner or later one of your employees is going to take a nap in front of a camera or do something else to embarrass you. Then the question is, are you prepared to deal with it–at the speed of youtube?